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Politics

Japan's drone delivery ambitions face legislative snag

Abe's government unable to pass bills advancing business innovations

A package delivery drone lands at the post office in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture. The Japanese government hoped to test the technology at a new special economic zone, but the plan has stalled.

TOKYO -- Japan's plan to set up so-called Super City economic zones designed to test such technologies as drone deliveries and self-driving cars may be delayed as the legislation stalls in parliament.

Also a bill that would have revised the corporate code to mandate the appointment of outside directors will not be submitted to the current Diet session after the November arrest of then-Nissan Motor Chairman Carlos Ghosn raised new concerns.

Failure to pass these bills, designed to advance Japan's business competitiveness, would represent a major setback for the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which hopes to tout its legislative accomplishments ahead of this year's upper house election.

The Super City initiative, in particular, has been a top priority for Abe. "Around the world, cutting-edge urban planning, which utilizes AI and big data, is rapidly transitioning from the experimentation stage to the practical-use stage," the prime minister said in late 2018. "We must swiftly materialize a Super City that proactively implements these pioneering innovations in various aspects of urban life in Japan, too."

But the Cabinet Legislation Bureau has raised concerns. The initial understanding had been that localities could issue ordinances allowing technologies not yet permitted under national laws, as long as they had the support of residents and the prime minister. The bureau, however, said this approach could violate a constitutional provision governing local ordinances.

The government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party missed their March 19 deadline to submit the legislation to the Diet and now hope to get it in by the end of April. But the 10-day Golden Week holidays coming up then and the upper house election leave little time for passage this session.

The government also gave up on submitting legislation designed to curb downloads of such pirated content as manga and photos, estimated to cost Japanese publishers 400 billion yen ($3.64 billion). The plan triggered intense backlash even from content creators poised to benefit from stronger copyright protection. In a rush to submit the legislation, the government did not thoroughly explain its intent to ensure broad support. The Cultural Affairs Agency is scheduled to re-examine the bill's contents.

The measure to require the appointment of independent directors was proposed in response to criticism by foreign investors of weak external controls at Japanese companies. But Ghosn's arrest proved that having outside directors, as Nissan did, is not enough to prevent misconduct by top executives.

As a result, LDP lawmakers grew concerned that the opposition could use the Nissan scandal to attack the legislation.

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